Updated: Aug 13, 2021
It is well known that our world is full of amazing and unique creatures. However, there are many ways that marine life can end your life, such as cone snails. The cone snail (Conus geographus), is a venomous sea snail that is commonly found in coral reefs of the Indian and Pacific oceans.
The cone snail's shell is brightly colored orange and brown with triangular white patterns. Their appearance is can be easily remembered to avoid being harmed. There are more than 800 species and sadly they are all venomous with different shells. On the bright side, these cone snails can only grow from 3 inches to 6 inches. Like regular snails, they have a slug-like body so they are extremely slow, even underwater. Since these creatures live in shallow waters of coral reefs, they have a harpoon-like feature to help them survive (see the image below).
As the cone snail extends their proboscis, the tip acts like a harpoon where they can shoot poison darts at their victim. Lastly, by extending the proboscis, the snail can eat their prey without having to leave its protective shell.
It’s horrifying how these tiny snails can make hundreds of toxins and mix them to make a deadly harpoon-like tooth. The toxins of the cone snail are called conotoxins and are one of the most effective toxins known. According to Wikipedia conotoxins are disulfide-bonded peptides, “which are peptides consisting of 10 to 30 amino acid residues, typically have one or more disulfide bonds.”
Although cone snails primarily use their harpoon to stun their prey, they are also often easily provoked and use it as a defense mechanism. They sting other animals/predators, or humans such as divers and snorkelers, that get too close. Though all cone snails have venom glands, only a few species are dangerous enough to be fatal to humans.
Even though these snails are deadly, the death rates aren't extremely high. More marine biologists are using cone snail's toxins to help people by making cures for other diseases. The venom is still highly potent, however, within a safe and controlled environment, marine biologists can use their venom against several neuronal targets making them valuable as research tools, drug leads, and even therapeutics. Getting shot by a cone snail does not necessarily mean death, but sadly treatment of their venom is limited to merely keeping the victims alive until the toxins wear off.